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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Mind the Gap by Matt McGann '00

Gap years are a good option for some students.

The Associated Press has a nice story about “Gap Years” that has been picked up by news organizations across the country. I first saw it at cnn.com/education, but it’s been in newspapers and on websites from Kentucky.com to SanLuisObispo.com.

You can read the story yourself here, but I’ll pull out some choice quotes below for comment.

Many college admissions officers support the idea [of deferring admission for a year or two]. While cautioning that a “gap year” between high school and college isn’t for everyone — and that just goofing off isn’t worthwhile — they say many students who take one return more confident and self-aware. […]

Generally, schools make students submit a proposal beyond “lying on the beach,” but often little more is required. The University of Chicago says it will grant deferrals for almost any reason as long as students don’t apply elsewhere.

“It’s reached the point where a lot of us in admissions are talking about ways to get students to just kind of relax,” said Martha Merrill, dean of admission and financial aid at Connecticut College.

We at MIT are among those college admissions officers who are supportive of students taking a gap year. And, like the University of Chicago (and many other schools), we’re happy to grant deferrals to most any proposal you might have. Also, we agree with Connecticut College’s Martha Merrill — as you’ve probably read on these blogs, we’re quite interested in finding ways of making college admissions and the high school to college transition less stressful and frenzied.

If you are a member of the Class of 2009 and would like to request a one-year (or sometimes two-year) deferral from starting at MIT, you can send a letter outlining your plans to our office:

Office of Admissions
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 3-108
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307

“Gap Year” is a bit of a loaded term, I think, with images of British aristocracy vacationing in the south of France coming to mind. But during my years in admissions, I’ve seen students take some time before starting MIT for many great reasons. For example, one of my favorite students spent a year as an EMT in Israel before his freshman year. This gave him a lot of perspective on the world, and when he got his first bad grade at MIT, he knew that it wasn’t a disaster, but rather an indication that he might want to reexamine his study habits and try a little harder next time. No crisis. Ultimately, his impact on MIT and the students around him was great, and his mentorship, with the help of his gap year’s perspective, was invaluable to many students here.

The article also addresses the different kinds of gap years:

Gap years need not be a luxury for the rich. Some students use them to earn money for school. Many programs offer scholarships or compensation for labor; AmeriCorps offers a living allowance and education funding. Reardon says anyone would be hard-pressed during a gap year to spend the $30,000 or more many of them would be paying for college.

I’m not writing to say that all students should take some time off before starting college. But I do think that there is a bit of a stigma about such plans in many areas of the country, a stigma that should be eliminated. The AP writes:

In the United States, however, experts say the increasing stress of college admissions makes parents nervous about any kind of unusual path. “These are families that somehow see this as not part of the grand plan,” said Gail Reardon, who founded a Boston company, Taking Off, that helps students plan gap years. Adds Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania: “Not wanting to break stride is the American way.” […] “I don’t think there’s any rational explanation to just run to college,” [Gerrit Lansing, a student who took a gap year] said. “There’s no reason. It’s just what everyone does.”

The bottom line here is that it is okay to slow down. Life, college, career — it’s not a race.

The other story today on all the news sites: NASA has postponed today’s planned shuttle launch. I’m only slightly disappointed, but also very hopeful that in not rushing and in catching mistakes before they become big problems, the space program can return, and become once again a great symbol of science in this world.

9 responses to “Mind the Gap”

  1. Nicole R says:

    First for the second time ever!

    I’ve been wanting to go to college since elementry school so I can’t really see myself taking a gap year (unless it was to earn money for college), but I have friends who want to take a year. Though a few of them want to just sleep all day and play video games others are planning trips and volunteer work.

  2. Laila Shabir says:

    hehe i agree wid Nicole here..

    ive been wantin to go to college for as long as i can remember … hmmm

    i can hardly wait for fall!!!! smile

  3. Fiona says:

    although I will definitely be going to MIT this fall, one of my friends (who is going to the University of Chicago, btw) is taking a gap year. For the summer and part of fall he’ll be working in a national park in Alaska and then he’s traveling to Japan for a few months with his family. I wouldn’t want to put MIT off for a year, but maybe for Alaska and Japan I would consider it.

  4. Katy says:

    Please consider a gap year. My son just returned from his 11-month Rotary exchange to Japan. He will be a freshman at MIT this fall. You can read about his gap year on his blog at http://www.clearlyno.com/ben/blog. Thank you MIT for enabling him to defer his enrollment. His year in Japan was invaluable.

  5. shikhar says:

    Well gap years can be really good at times or really crappy (depends on what you plan to do). I don’t think I’l take one if I get into class of MIT 2010..but then my decisions often change by the elventh hour.

    I was curious whether people applying after a gap year have the same chance of getting admitted to college as their high school counterparts.

    Shikhar Saxena

  6. john says:

    japan was pretty po’d about the delay, seeing as they have two nationals accompanying the mission. I myself have already waited two months and can wait another few days (Saturday is the tentative date :^) i think)

  7. Laura says:

    EMT in Israel? That’s…insane. What an incredible experience.

    I barely considered taking a gap year. I would have loved to find some awesome job or travel program or whatever to do for a year, but I am so totally ready for college.

    P.S. Go NASA!

  8. This sounds like a very neat idea, but I worry about making a college decision before a year of potentially life-changing experiences. Are people usually happy with their choice when they return?

  9. Elizabeth says:

    hey Matt, what about taking a “gap year” in between years of MIT? The idea of taking a gap year intrigues me (I have always wanted to hike the appalachian trail), but as a 2009er I think it’s a little too late for me to start planning one.